Thursday, April 28, 2011

Lectionary Ruminations for Sunday, May 1, 2011, the Second Sunday of Easter (Year A)

Posted each Thursday, Lectionary Ruminations focuses on the Scripture Readings, taken from the New Revised Standard Version, for the following Sunday per the Revised Common Lectionary. Comments and questions are intended to encourage reflection for readers preparing to teach, preach, or hear the Word. Reader comments are invited and encouraged. All lectionary links are to the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) of the Bible via the PC(USA) Devotions and Readings website, but if you prefer another translation, feel free to use that instead. (Other references are linked to the NRSV via the oremus Bible Browser.) Lectionary Ruminations is also cross posted on my personal blog, Summit to Shore.

Acts 2:14a, 22-32
v. 14a Whom is Peter addressing?

v. 22 Are “deeds of power”, “wonders” and “signs” synonyms?

v. 23 “Definite plan and foreknowledge” – This does not sound like the same Peter portrayed in the Gospels

vs. 25-29 Where does David say this? How would you grade Peter’s interpretation of David’s words?

v. 30 Since when has David been considered a prophet?

v. 32 Is Peter arguing for the resurrection, or something else?

Psalm 16:1-11
v. 3 Who are “the holy ones in the land”?

v. 4 Whom is the Psalmist referring to?

v. 5 What is a “chosen portion”?

v. 6 I find this an interesting verse in light of the recent political history of the Middle East, especially regarding borders

v. 7 How does the heart instruct during the night? Is this a reference to dreams?

v. 10 What is the Pit” being referred to?

Why does the Psalmist seem to alternate between direct address to God and speaking of God in the third person?

1 Peter 1:3-9
v. 4 Is this “imperishable, undefiled, and unfading” inheritance being implicitly compared to any other inheritance?

v. 5 What does this verse say about Peter’s eschatology?

v. 6 what trials is Peter referring to?

v. 8 Is this verse evidence that Peter is writing to perhaps second generation Christians?

John 20:19-31
v.19 This reading might be for the First Sunday After Easter, but the narrative is from the events of Easter day. What is the significance of Jesus’ words?

v. 20 Did the disciples not recognize Jesus until after he showed them his wounds?

v. 21 How did the Father send Jesus?

v. 22 Did the disciples receive the Holy Spirit? If so, was it Jesus words or his breathing on them, or both, that allowed them to receive it?

v. 23 How shall we protestants deal with this verse?

v. 25 Would Thomas have said this if it were not for what is described in verse 20?

v. 26 Now we are dealing with events on the same schedules as we are, a week after Easter.

v. 27 Jesus invites Thomas to touch his wounds, but does Thomas do so? Was just being invited to do so enough to ignite Thomas’ belief?

v. 29 Whom is this verse referring to when it speaks of “those who have not seen and yet come to believe”?

v. 30 I wonder what “other signs” are being thought of. I think there is a novel or two waiting to be inspired by this verse. Perhaps Dan Brown will take up the challenge. I find it interesting that this Gospel refers to itself as a “book”.

v. 31 Who is the “you” being addressed?

Monday, April 25, 2011

Monday Blog Club - Easter!

Good morning!

Apologies for my absence. . . I was off doing this:

But now I'm back and happy to welcome the newest members of our web ring, Laila and Liz from Four for a Year!

"We are a Presbyterian pastor and a marketing consultant attempting to follow Miguel Ruiz's "Four Agreements" for one year. The agreements are: 1. Be impeccable with your word. 2. Don't make assumptions. 3. Don't take anything personally. 4. Always do your best. The agreements are about seeking truth and love in everything we do. They are not a religion in themselves, but they in fact dovetail beautifully with our Christian identity. We seek to follow Christ and to incorporate "love your neighbor as yourself" into our daily living, and the agreements can be a powerful tool to help us along that path. We initially began trying to follow the agreements while training for a half-marathon together. We'd choose one for a week and, in the wee hours of the morning as we ran, we'd talk about the experience. This task was surprisingly difficult and life changing. So life changing that we committed to following the agreements for one entire year. We decided to blog about it as a means to keep ourselves on task and to hopefully encourage others with honest (and often humorous) accounts of our experiences as we move toward a more positive and love-filled way of being."

Happy Easter!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Lectionary Ruminations for Sunday, April 24, 2011, the Resurrection of the Lord (Easter Day) (Year A)

Posted each Thursday, Lectionary Ruminations focuses on the Scripture Readings, taken from the New Revised Standard Version, for the following Sunday per the Revised Common Lectionary. Comments and questions are intended to encourage reflection for readers preparing to teach, preach, or hear the Word. Reader comments are invited and encouraged. All lectionary links are to the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) of the Bible via the PC(USA) Devotions and Readings website, but if you prefer another translation, feel free to use that instead. (Other references are linked to the NRSV via the oremus Bible Browser.) Lectionary Ruminations is also cross posted on my personal blog, Summit to Shore.

Hallelujah. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!

The Lectionary for this day offers various alternate Readings. The First Reading may be Acts 10:34-43 or Jeremiah 31:1-6. The Second Reading may Colossians 3:1-4 or Acts 10:34:43. If you choose to use the Acts passage for the First Reading, you would of course use the Colossians passage for the Second Reading. If you choose the Jeremiah passage for the First Reading, you then have two passages to choose from for the Second Reading. There are also two options for the Gospel. Pick either John 20:1-18 or Matthew 28:1-10. Even though there are six passages, I will focus only on four.

Acts 10:34-43
v. 34 What is the context of this passage? What would it mean if God did show partiality?

v. 35 What do you think it means to “fear” God?

vs. 36-39 This reads like a brief synopsis of the life and ministry of Jesus.

v. 40 The Easter Proclamation! How do you understand “allowed”?

v. 41 What is the significance of eating and drinking with the resurrected Christ?

v.42 What is the difference, if any, between preaching and testifying?

v. 43 What “prophets” is Peter referring to?

Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
vs. 1-2 A call and response.

v. 14 How shall Christians read “salvation” in the Hebrew Scriptures?

vs. 15-16 Is the Psalmist quoting a glad song of victory?

v. 17 How do we recount the deeds of the LORD? What are the deeds of the LORD?

v. 18 What do you thin was the nature of the Psalmist’s punishment?

v. 19 What are, and where are, the gates of righteousness?

v. 20 I would love to know how you interpret this verse in light of verse 19.

v. 21 A shift from speaking of God in the third person to speaking to God in the second person.

v. 22 Where will Christians hear this again?

v. 23 What is the LORD’sdoing?

v. 24 What is the day the LORD has made? How can we be glad in it?

Colossians 3:1-4
v. 1 An “if/then” statement even though the “then” implicit. What are the things that are above?

v. 2 Does it make any difference that the admonition refers to the mind rather than the heart?

v. 3 What does it that your life is hidden?

v. 4 I thought Christ has already been revealed in the life and ministry of Jesus. Must this, by necessity, refer to the parousia or to the final resurrection?

John 20:1-18
v. 1 What is the first day of the week? What does it mean that it was still dark? How did Mary see that the stone had been removed from the tomb if was still dark?

v. 2 Let’s speculate about the identity of the other disciple, the on whom Jesus loved. From the context, I think we can rule out Peter. Whom might Mary have meant by “they”? Why does Mary say, “we do not know”? Was she not alone?

v. 4 Peter, the slowpoke, quick to speak, slow to run.

v. 5 Why not go in?

v. 6 Peter might be slow, but he is not hesitant.

v. 8 I find it interesting that in reference to Peter, there is no mention of him believing. In this passage, it is this “other disciple” that is the first to “believe”.

v. 9 But based on this verse, what did the “other disciple” believe? That someone (they of verse 2) has taken the Lord out of the tomb?

vs. 10-11 Am anticlimactic verse. Then again, where else could the disciples have gone? Why did they abandon Mary, leaving her all alone? Were they simply typical men?

v. 12 How shall we moderns, or post-moderns, deal with angels when we encounter them in Scripture?

v. 14 How could, and why would, Mary not recognize Jesus?

v. 15 Both Jesus and the Angels (in verse 13) address Mary in the same way and ask the same question. But Jesus asks even more than the angels asked.

v. 16 Jesus address Mary by name rather than by “woman” and she calls him Rabbouni rather than “gardener”.

v. 17 Why would Jesus say this? What do we make of Jesus talk about not yet having ascended? What is the meaning of “brothers”? Why “I am ascending” rather than “I will ascend”?

v. 18 Does this make Mary the first post resurrection witness? Preacher? Perhaps, in recognition of the role played by Mary, the first words of any Easter liturgy ought to be spoken by a woman!


Do not forget the multi-valiant character of John’s Gospel. I think we may be tempted to become so engrossed by John’s description of the scene and dialogue of the first Easter that we may miss any deep structure. John has been highly structured and symbolic throughout. Why change at the resurrection account?

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Grounded Scriptures: The Undoing of Creation

Matthew 27:50-54
Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. After his resurrection they came out of the tombs and entered the holy city and appeared to many. Now when the centurion and those with him, who were keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were terrified and said, “Truly this man was God’s Son!”

An orderly creation is characterized by clear demarcations and separations. God separated the light from the dark, the waters from the land, and the clean from the unclean. The Temple is all about separations; the Gentiles excluded on the outside, the women excluded in one court, non-priestly men kept away one degree by a wall, and finally at the center a curtain to veil God’s presence.
We know that Jesus was in the business of re-drawing those lines of separation, and that many were scandalized because of how he did this – accepting women into table fellowship, extending miraculous work even to the Gentiles, touching the leprous, the unclean, and the dead. We know something about “the veil of the curtain rent in twain” signifying the end to the separation between God and humanity. But we can only wonder about the shaking of the earth. Is there no more distinction between rock and not-rock, between the permanent and the temporary, the animate and inanimate?

The rocks mourned Christ’s death, the sun refused to shine, and creation called loudly for people to pay attention to the tragedy unfolding. But then things returned to normal. Men went back to oppressing women, well-meaning bishops built a new temple and set the curtain back up again, and the rocks sat back and kept their silence.
It’s a cloudy, rainy, mourn-y kind of Holy Week where I am, which helps me to feel appropriately solemn. I have remembered so many years when I wanted to stay in the gloomy mood created by the Scriptures, only to have sunshine and happy birds and all kinds of natural distractions pull me into Easter a day or two early. “Happy” vs. “solemn” is only the tip of the iceberg, though. I wish the earth would re-enact for us the uncreating of creation, as it did at Golgotha. I want to remember the earthquake – the shaking, the un-doing, the erasing of boundaries, and the possibility of truly leaving our walls and dividing curtains behind. We need to be disassembled if we are to be created anew with the risen Christ.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Go Fish! This Easter be Hands, Feet and Ears

Bunny Rabbit

I’m going to be praying for the congregation of another church tomorrow morning. They won’t know it; they’re thousands of miles away and only a few people from there know me. I’m praying for them because they are doing something very brave that I wish my church would do.

They’re going door to door inviting their neighbors to church on Easter.

A couple of months ago I visited this church while on a trip. I filled out the guest book and gave them my email address, and now from time to time I receive the pastor’s updates to the congregation.

The other day I got an email about what’s happening at the church during Holy Week. One of the things that impressed me most about the schedule was that on Saturday – tomorrow – the congregation is walking the surrounding neighborhood to invite neighbors to Easter services.

At the end of the email the pastor included a script that walkers will use. It starts asking if the person is familiar with the church on the corner (the church is hard to miss, so I’m assuming most people will at least be familiar with the building). It includes a gracious invitation to Easter services.

My favorite part of the script is this question:

“We also want to be a good neighbor so today we are asking if there is anything you think we should know about the neighborhood?”

I love that question for a couple of reasons. One, it establishes and frames the relationship. “We’re neighbors, and not only that we want to be ‘good’ neighbors.”

Second, it asks an open-ended question that allows the neighbor talk, and requires the congregation member to listen.

I can see from the community activities this church is already involved in that the church leadership actually cares about the answers to this question. I don’t think this is an idle question that’s being asked for show. I think the church is actually interested in what neighbors will have to say.

So I will be holding them up in prayer tomorrow, celebrating their willingness to go out and meet the neighbors, as well as their willingness to listen to what their neighbors have to say.

And while most of us won’t be going door-to-door inviting neighbors to Easter services, some of our neighbors will find their way inside our sanctuaries on Easter. In preparation for guests we’re putting on our “Easter best”, getting the church cleaned up, hanging celebratory banners, displaying the Easer lilies, and preparing our best sermons and Alleluia choruses.

We obviously have something to say on Easter: “He is risen!” But are we ready to listen? Are we ready to hear what our neighbors have to say is what’s most important to them?

My encouragement to all of us would be to not just speak on Easter Sunday, but to also listen. If you have the opportunity, plainly ask: “What do you think is something we should know about this neighborhood? What’s important to you and your family?” And then really listen.

If that doesn’t feel natural, at least take the time to engage guests in conversations and listen for clues about who they are and what’s behind their decision to come on this Easter.

We like to talk a lot in the church about being Christ’s hands and feet. On this Easter, let’s be his ears, too.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Lectionary Ruminations for Sunday, April 17, 2011, Palm Sunday (Passion Sunday) (Year A)

Posted each Thursday, Lectionary Ruminations focuses on the Scripture Readings, taken from the New Revised Standard Version, for the following Sunday per the Revised Common Lectionary. Comments and questions are intended to encourage reflection for readers preparing to teach, preach, or hear the Word. Reader comments are invited and encouraged. All lectionary links are to the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) of the Bible via the PC(USA) Devotions and Readings website, but if you prefer another translation, feel free to use that instead. (Other references are linked to the NRSV via the oremus Bible Browser.)

For those who chose to observe the bifocal nature of this Sunday, there are six appointed Scripture Readings rather than four, and for one of the Readings there is a shorter (relatively speaking) alternative. I will focus on the shorter option.

Matthew 21:1-11
v. 2 Must we have BOTH a donkey and a colt?

v. 5 What prophet is quoted and why does it appear that the author of Matthew does not understand Hebrew poetry?

v. 8 Was it palm branches that were cut?

v. 9 Where have we (and those in the crowd) heard this before?

v. 10 Is this not the question we seek to answer?

v. 11 Is this a satisfactory answer to the above question?

Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29
The choice of this “Liturgy of the Palms” Psalm (say that three times) is obviously dictated by Matthew, in the “Liturgy of the Palms” Gospel Reading, which in verse 9 quotes Psalm 116 verse 26. I think it can be argued that whenever the new Testament quotes a verse or two from a Psalm that the entire Psalm is drawn into the interpretation, as in an oral Jewish culture most of the audience would likely have known the Psalm and thought of it even if only one verse were quoted. We experience the same when someone today quotes a line from a familiar poem, song or document.

Note the refrain of verses 1 in verses 29.

How does this Psalm influence our interpretation of Matthew 21:1-11 and vice versa? How does this Psalm influence our view of Jesus?

Isaiah 50:4-9a
It seems that verses 6-9 are why this passage was chosen for this Sunday, but what about verses 4-5? I usually think of the teacher’s role being to educate, not “sustaining the weary with a word.”
Not only has the Psalmist been given the tongue of a teacher, the Psalmist’s ear has also been wakened to “listen as those who are taught.” Are the best teachers the teachers who are also students? By corollary, are the best preachers those who are also preached to? Are the best worship leaders those who also are led in worship?

Psalm 31:9-16
A prayer for deliverance from personal enemies is an obvious choice for the liturgy of the passion. We can almost imagine hearing these words from the lips of Jesus as he was being crucified, or at any time during his passion. This Psalm reads like the thoughts and feelings of the dejected, rejected, and defeated. Nevertheless the Psalm, in the end, expresses prayerful trust.

Philippians 2:5-11
v. 8 recalls the passion while

v. 9 recalls the resurrection

v. 11 “Jesus Christ is Lord” is one of the earliest, if not the earliest Christian Confession. From this basic affirmation, how did we get to the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene, not to mention the Westminster Confession? There is something to be said for simplicity, but simplicity, rather than precision, leaves room for multiple interpretations and levels of meaning. I can live with that.

Matthew 27:11-54 (The shorter Reading)
(The longer reading is Matthew 26:14-27:66. While I usually think any reading of Scripture calls for interpretation through some form of proclamation, this may be one Sunday where Scripture, without interpretation, can stand alone. Rarely do we have the opportunity to hear read in one service the entire Passion narrative. With a little effort, this reading could be presented as a dramatic reading with members of the congregation reading various parts.)

vs. 11-14 Why would Jesus not answer these charges?

v. 15-23 It it mere coincidence that both prisoners were named Jesus?

v. 18 What do you make of this “jealousy”?

v. 19 Another example of a truth telling woman.

v. 24 This hand washing is perhaps what Pilate is most remembered for.

v. 25 How shall we deal with this verse that could be interpreted as being anti-Semitic?

vs. 27-31 Biblical material for Mel Gibson.

v. 32 we all have our own particular cross to carry, and if a Roman soldier asks you to carry a cross one mile, offer to carry it two.

v. 34 Why would Jesus not drink?

vs. 38-44 Was there anyone who did not deride, mock, or otherwise taunt Jesus?

v. 45 Is it in anyway significant that the darkness lasted three hours?

v. 46 Is Jesus by any chance quoting something? What does he quote?

v. 51 What is the symbolism of the torn curtain?

v. 52 Saints?

v. 54 Truth not from the disciples, not from a woman, not from any of the Jews, but from Roman soldiers.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Grounded Scriptures: grateful for apricots

Gratitude. A visiting scholar from UC Davis, Dr. Robert Emmons, made two presentations at my school last week about gratitude and its power upon our lives.
Gratitude is an expression of thanks to someone or something for a benefit given to us, which we did not deserve or earn. Regularly reflecting on gratitude (an activity as simple as keeping a journal, and each night writing down 5 things for which we were grateful that day) has well-documented positive effects on our lives, moods, actions, and health.

Psalm 147:7-9
Sing to the LORD with thanksgiving;
make music to our God upon the harp.
God covers the heavens with clouds,
prepares rain for the earth,
makes grass grow on the hills.
God gives food to flocks and herds,
and to the young ravens when they cry.

Gratitude is an important part of our Biblical tradition. If the creation stories of the Bible don’t tell us exactly how the earth was made, they do tell us one important thing: we didn’t make it ourselves. Neither did we do anything to deserve the earth and its richness. We are not entitled to it – we are privileged to enjoy it.

I had a moment of gratitude last weekend. My housemates and I were on retreat, and picnicked by Limantour Beach. We set up a picnic blanket in a relatively grassy spot surrounded by wild douglas irises. We had some oranges, a loaf of bread, almond butter, and two jams. One jam was from Trader Joe’s (blackberry preserves). The other was an apricot preserve. It was made by the elderly mother of an SFTS professor, who harvested the apricot tree in the backyard, sliced, cooked, and canned dozens of jars, and gave us some as a gift. Both jams were delicious. However, only one elicited feelings of gratitude. I was entitled to the blackberry, because I handed a few dollars to the clerk at TJ’s. I had no such claim on Grandma Betty’s Apricot Special.

What are you grateful for today?
What have you received as a gift?

...and I wonder what life would be like if we did less buying and selling, and more giving and receiving.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Lectionary Ruminations for Sunday, April 10, 2011, the Fifth Sunday in Lent (Year A)

Posted each Thursday, Lectionary Ruminations focuses on the Scripture Readings, taken from the New Revised Standard Version, for the following Sunday per the Revised Common Lectionary. Comments and questions are intended to encourage reflection for readers preparing to teach, preach, or hear the Word. Reader comments are invited and encouraged. All lectionary links are to the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) of the Bible via the PC(USA) Devotions and Readings website, but if you prefer another translation, feel free to use that instead. (Other references are linked to the NRSV via the oremus Bible Browser.) Lectionary Ruminations is also cross posted on my personal blog, Summit to Shore.

Ezekiel 37:1-14
v. 1 What does it mean for “the hand of the LORD” to come upon a person, like it “came upon” Ezekiel. Has the handoff the LORD ever come upon you or upon someone you know? I interpret this reading as a vision experienced by Ezekiel, certainly not an account of anything that happened in real time and space, but only within the psyche of Ezekiel.

v. 3 Is there any significance that Ezekiel is addressed by the LORD as “Mortal” rather than by name? Does the LORD ask a rhetorical question? I think the “mortal” passes the buck with his answer.

vs. 5-6 What linguistic and theological moves are being made by connecting breath with life?

v. 8 Oh no! No breath!

v. 9 What do you know about the four winds? Personally, I cannot read this passage without thinking of Native American spirituality.

v. 11 Oh, so these were not bones at all, but a living nation feeling dried up, proof positive that this is a vision.

v. 12 Is this verse about a physical resurrection or a spiritual resurrection.

v. 14 IMHO, this is a verse that many aging congregations and congregations of the aging, often feeling “very dry” and completely cut off, need to hear and reflect upon. Are they willing, REALLY willing, to have the LORD put the spirit within them?

Psalm 130
This, and Psalm 121, are my favorite Psalms. Along with the 23rd Psalm, Psalm121and 130 were the first three Psalms I committed to memory.

v. 1 What sort of images rise to the surface in your mind when you read or hear “out of the depths”. I cannot but help but interpret “depths” from a Jungian perspective. You might be more inclined to take a psychoanalytic reproach. How many of us are NOT think of one form of depression or another?

v. 2 When we implore the LORD to hear our voice, is it really to catch God’s attention or to focus our own?

v. 3 So, does the LORD mark iniquities, or not?

v. 4 Forgiveness, and Grace! I like the translation “revere” as I think the KJV and RSV was “feared,” suggesting a wrathful, rather than an awesome, God.

v. 5 What does it mean to “wait for the LORD”? How do you “wait” for the LORD? In a culture of fast food and instant gratification, this verse might be more poignant today than ever before. I am thinking of the contemplative tradition here, as well as centering prayer.

v. 6 Is there something more going on here than poetry? What does it mean for the morning watch when the morning arrives? What does it mean for the person waiting for the LORD, hoping in God’s word, to see and witness the arrival of what one has been waiting for?

v. 7 Note the shift from the first person biographical to the direct address admonition. What is “steadfast” love? What is “great power to redeem”?

v. 8 In other words, wait for no one or nothing else. Place your hope in no other person or no other thing.

Romans 8:6-11
v. 6 This reads like a proverb and can almost stand on its own. What does Paul mean by “flesh” and “spirit”? What does he mean “death” and “life and peace”? Must we read this as a dichotomy? Does it make any difference that Paul was writing before Descartes and we are reading after Descartes’ mind/body split?

v. 9 If we are indeed “in the Spirit” as Paul says, then why did he have to say what he said in verses 6-8?

vs. 9-11 Does Paul use “Spirit of God” and “Spirit of Christ” synonymously? How many mainline Christians, especially staid Presbyterians, find Paul’s focus on the Spirit unsettling?

John 11:1-45
Spoiler alert: If you do not know how the Easter Story ends, this might give it away. Is there any way to make this 45 verse Reading shorter while still maintaining its integrity?

v. 3 I dare you to unpack this verse! In light of verse 5,, however, maybe the dare is not worth it.

v. 4 Jesus’ response sounds much like his response in last week’s reading, chapter 9 verse 3. What is this”Son of God” language doing here? I would expect to see “Son of Man” language.

v. 6 Why the two day wait?

vs.9-10 Is there a hint of Gnosticism here?

vs.11-14 Was Jesus simply using a euphemism for death, or is there something else going on here?

v. 16 Thomas does not seem to doubt his resolve to follow Jesus to his death.

v. 17 What is the significance of four days?

v. 20 A typical Martha/Mary response?

v. 21 Way to place the blame, Martha.

v. 23 Again?

v. 24 What is the matter, Martha, is not the promise of resurrection on the last day enough to comfort you in your grief?

v. 25 One of Jesus’ ”I am” sayings. Where do we find the others and what are they?

v. 27 This reads, and sounds, like an early Christian confession of Faith.

v. 28 I did not hear Jesus calling for Mary, did you?

v. 32 Mary joins the blame game. At least the sisters agree on something.

v. 33 Why would seeing tears disturb and move Jesus in a way he had not yet been moved and disturbed?

v. 34 “Come and see” sounds like something someone would say about Jesus, not Lazarus. Maybe that is the point.

v. 35 And what do we know about this verse?

v. 37 More than a rhetorical question?

v. 38 déàja vu or foreshadowing?

v. 39 Is there any significance to the fact that it is Martha, rather than Mary, who comments about the stench?

v.44 How did Lazarus come out if his feet were bound with strips of cloth? How did heseewhere to go if his face was wrapped in a cloth? Could there be more to the command “Unbind him, and let him go” than meets the eye? Maybe Jesus was referring not just to the strips of cloth.

There are many connections among all four readings, perhaps too many. Countless sermons can be preached and lessons taught on any one of these texts, or any permutation of them, that the preacher/teacher might feel over whelmed. Add to this the fact that this is the Sunday before Palm/Passion Sunday. Thus, we seem to have a perfect storm of homiletical and educational responsibilities.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Grounded Scriptures: Wisdom and Milk

Exciting new developments in the world of biotechnology: Cows can now produce human milk. That's right. Read all about it on the UK's Telegraph.
Leaving aside issues of veganism, animal rights, and whether it's really desireable to nurse from other animals, when we were weaned off our human mother's milk decades ago... there are other questions.

Really, the bazillion dollar question is. "Just because we can, should we?"
We know how to do it. Well, sort of. More than half the first batch of genetically modified cows died, for unknown reasons, but that's probably a minor glitch in the system that can be worked out, eh?
We know that there are certain nutrients found in human milk that are lacking in cow's milk and in most baby formulas. For babies in need these are crucial. We can now turn cattle into living factories for essential nutrients. Awesome?

Genetically modifying plants and animals is a whole can of worms. My Material Theology class did a lot of work on debating their merits and dangers. My side (arguing against genetic modification) acted it out: we placed ourselves in a divine council, and God heard arguments against the dangers of GMO agriculture. In our heavenly council, there was an American farmer who had lost his land due to the monopolization process, an Indian farmer whose land was ruined by bad farming practices, and an activist talking about the agricultural-military-industrial complex. Jesus finally took center stage (in a kilt, to keep a bit of a gender balance - this is the GTU after all) and reminded people of the lessons of Job... to which I now turn.

The book of Job is in the genre of wisdom literature. It is a long debate about the merits of various theologies. How can you explain when bad things happen to good people? Job and his friends debate this for 37 long chapters. Then finally God speaks up:

YHWH answered Job out of the whirlwind:
“Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?
Gird up your loins like a man,
I will question you, and you shall declare to me.
“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements--surely you know!
Or who stretched the line upon it?
On what were its bases sunk,
or who laid its cornerstone
when the morning stars sang together
and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy?

God further interrogates Job - he may know about domestic animals, being a man of many herds and flocks, but is he such an expert on the wild animals?

“Do you know when the mountain goats give birth?
Do you observe the calving of the deer?
Can you number the months that they fulfill,
and do you know the time when they give birth,
when they crouch to give birth to their offspring,
and are delivered of their young?
Their young ones become strong, they grow up in the open;
they go forth, and do not return to them.

We have plenty of the "words without knowledge." We can talk an endless talk about how we think the world works. Yes, we may understand enough to perform open-heart surgery, and fertilize ourselves in vitro, and drill for oil, but when the next earthquake is coming we really don't know. We can splice the genome apart and together again, but even the best-cared-for pregnancies often miscarry, and no doctor can explain it. We can attack HIV, but we certainly cannot conquer it.

In the face of the wonders created around us, we ought not to stifle our own creativity. But let us never forget the limits of our knowledge. Knowing that there is a God, a power higher than our best intelligence, reminds us to be humble with our creations.

The cows who survive long enough to produce the wonder-milk may have any number of health defects - we simply do not know what we have done to them when we spliced their genes. But for that matter, we choose not to know a lot about animals, as long as they do what we want them. We purposefully ignore the details of their gastrointestinal systems, feeding cattle on corn because it's cheap, and because given the right amount of antibiotics they'll survive anyhow. We know how to manipulate animals to our desires, but we truly do not know, with God's masterful knowledge, what it is that makes them healthy.
God is painted, in Job, as a caring and skillful creator. God is the one who DOES know when a wild deer crouches to give birth, and what a raven needs to eat, how to bring forth grass on the earth, and where the stars travel.

God is the one who truly knows. Let us not be satisfied with the kind of knowledge that gets results, well enough - but let us seek for the true wisdom that God can impart to us through intimate and compassionate ways of living with creation.

Friday, April 01, 2011

What does it mean to be a human being?

Most of us believe that humans are different than other animals. We know that fish are different than birds, which are different from reptiles. There are distinctions between these animal groups, which is why we can call some creatures "Swordfish" and other creatures "Robins" and not be confused about which is which.

Animals can do some amazing things that we can’t do. Breath underwater, fly, use echolocation, migrate long distances to someplace they have never been before without getting lost, jump several times their height, smell all sorts of odors we can’t. We could go on and on. At the same time, certain abilities cross over classes. Birds and bats (mammals) fly. Fish, mammals and birds swim. Insects and reptiles and mammals can jump. Certain abilities are found in multiple kinds of quite different animals.

Humans have always wanted to claim we have particular abilities which are unique to humans. What would those abilities be? What makes us uniquely different than other animal?

Tool making?





Well,i the interesting news is that scientists can find examples of all these traits in animals. These abilities, just like the ability to swim or fly, cross over classes.

Some would claim that the differences between animals and humans are of degree and not kind. Other animals make and use tools but human made tools are much more complex than anything any other animal makes. Animals communicate but none have the complexity of human language and certainly none (that we know of) have a written form of language. A wolf pack might enforce ideals of right and wrong behavior but the level of sophistication of human morality is far beyond any animal moral code. For some, what makes us distinct is the complexity of our language, culture, tools, morality, etc. But is complexity enough to claim distinction?

Are there qualities that humans have that no other animals have?

I'm not sure that we ought to expect science to illuminate what makes us uniquely human. Based on all that we have learned, even just the past 20 years, it seems the trend in science may well be to blur the distinction between humans and other animals. We may not be as biologically unique as we think we are. Which suggests that we ought to look somewhere else in our search of the location of our unique status in the world.

Additionally ethologists are discovering forms of culture and morality in animals, so the answer may not lie there either.

I want to suggest that our human distinctiveness is found in our relationship with God, and specifically our vocation given from God. I would be very reluctant to hold the position that humans are the only living creatures with a relationship with God. At best, all I can say is I don’t know. It is certainly not beyond the abilities of God to be in relationship with other animals.

What I would claim is that we humans have been given a particular vocation by God and this is what makes us unique and human. Humans are given responsibility for creation. We named the other creatures( Gen 2:19-20). We are charged to till and keep (Gen 2:15). I think it is our calling which makes us unique. As those who bear the image of God, we are called to care for the earth as God cares for it. This calling appears to be ours alone. Other creatures don't have this responsibility and this power. We can nurture or we can destroy. Godlike power has been given to us.

Would we act differently if we understood our humanity to mean responsibility for the planet? Would we act differently if we believed that to be created in the image of God meant we ought to care for creation in the same way God cares for us? Would we act differently if we stopped thinking we were the best and smartest creature, the reason the world exists and began thinking we were here to serve and protect and nurture others?

I wonder. What do you think?


This topic, what it means to be human and the ways humans, animals and God interact has been an interest of mine for a long time. If you are interested, I have written more about this on my blog, Probably the best way to find the posts is to look under the categories "animals" and "human". Here is the first post on this topic.